Arirang Film Review
Ki-duk Kim, enfant terrible of Korean cinema, put himself in exile. He did this partly because he is a nutter, and partly because he experienced something of an existential crisis during the creation of his then most recent film, Dream. An actress ended up almost dying in one of the scenes of the film, and this seemed to break something inside of him and he disappeared for a bit. He moved into the mountains of South Korea and, from what is shown in this film, spent most of his time writing in a small tent in a hut, eating noodles, shitting in the forest and making increasingly complex iterations of the standard coffee machine.
The film is basically Kim stretching apart the wounds that he has accumulated over his fifteen film career, for which he has won awards in Berlin and Cannes, and pouring salt in them for our perusal. He expounds at length to himself, or his own shadow, about his reasons for any self-perceived faults that he as a person or as an artist may have. He also spends a lot of time staring at snow.
Written here, it sounds completely self-indulgent, which it absolutely is. It’s not fun to watch some wallow in self-pity, even someone as naturally entertaining and insane as Kim certainly is. But it’s also very compelling, and a great insight into the mind of someone who struggles with recognition in his home country; recognition that he questions, at one point, because of the nature of his films. Is recognition worth anything if it’s given blindly?
The film pivots on a long scene in the middle where he cuts between two different versions of himself – one normal, reasonable, asking brutal questions, while the other is scruffier and more emotional – which ends with the aforementioned song. I’m not afraid to say that I fast-forwarded the song, as I didn’t need to see it. It didn’t add anything, but I appreciated why he’d left it in the film – it was an expression of pure emotion that he needed, at the time, for release. He later questions himself, wondering if he was acting or if he was telling the truth.
It’s this fractious mindset that drives the film. The fact that he can separate those two aspects of his personality so easily suggests that there may be further hinges broken inside of him that are suggested on the surface of the film, and it’s difficult to not believe we’re looking at someone unbalanced while he shows himself watching one of his own films, wrapped in a duvet, crying to himself in a small tent.
But as he himself asks – is it all an act? It’s doubtful that someone who appears to value honesty and integrity in cinema would allow something like this to get a release if it wasn’t truthful; it seems to be more about the act of release and total freedom that letting the audience see this side of his life allows. It’s fantastic, uncomfortable, and heartrending.